Thursday saw what might be a new stage in the Syrian conflict, which the United Nations estimates has already claimed over 7,500 lives. Abdo Husameddine, the 58-year-old deputy oil minister of Syria since 2009, announced his defection, thereby becoming the highest-ranking civilian to abandon the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad.
Husameddine made his announcement in a video posted on YouTube, in which he urged fellow Syrians to "abandon this sinking ship," the Associated Press reported. Though he did not address Assad directly, he accused him of having inflicted a "full year of sorrow and sadness" as well as of pushing "the country to the edge of the abyss." In the still-unverified video, he also said: "I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime. I declare that I am joining the revolution of the dignified people."
Soldiers and officers have crossed over to join the loosely organized Free Syrian Army fighting forces loyal to the regime. On Friday, Turkish state-run television reported that two more Syrian generals and a colonel had defected across the border. But few senior civilian officials have followed suit. Adnan Bakkour, the attorney general of the central city of Hama, made a similar video announcing his defection in late August, but has not been heard from since.
Calls for and against Intervention
On Friday, the leader of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, rejected calls by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general recently appointed to the be UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, to enter into political dialogue with the Syrian government, according to the AP. Annan will meet with Assad over the weekend.
While in Cairo on Thursday, Annan warned against further militarization of the conflict. "I hope that no one is thinking very seriously of using force in this situation," he said, adding that it would only "make the situation worse." His comments came soon after Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a committee of the US Senate that President Obama had instructed the Pentagon to prepare an examination of possible intervention scenarios, such as imposing a no-fly zone and conducting humanitarian airlifts.
In Friday's newspapers, German commentators welcome the news of Husameddine's defection, drawing parallels with the sequence of events that led to the eventual downfall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Bashar Assad has gambled away a hundred chances. Now even his closest allies are starting to distance themselves from him, such as the radical Islamists of Hamas in Gaza. He resembles his father very much in terms of the cruelty and paranoia of his regime but there is a fundamental difference between the two. Hafez Assad held Syria together with brutal domestic policies, but he established himself as a independent actor in terms of foreign policies. He closely allied his country with the Soviet Union, and he salvaged relations with Iran after the shah was toppled despite the fact that his secular Baath regime couldn't be more (politically) distant to the Persian mullah state. He controlled neighboring Lebanon. Indeed, Syria was the keystone for the geopolitical architecture of the region. Bashar, his son, has gambled all of that away. And he has jerked the world out of its lethargy."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeiting writes:
"With (Husameddine), a high representative of the regime has left the circled wagons of Damascus for the first time. It's not much, but that's how it also began with Gadhafi. As long as the majority of the army remains with him and the opposition isn't really united, Assad still has good chances of maintaining his position. There are various Western voices that say they would probably prefer his brutal regime in the future over the risks associated with an unknown balance of power. The good election results for the Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt -- which were unpopular in Europe -- have probably contributed to this position."
"In light of the 8,500 people who have already reportedly been killed, international pressure should be increased. Russia and China must be made to understand that Syria is no anchor of stability but has, instead, always been among the worst, most torturous regimes."
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"Husameddine has shown courage. The father of four senses what he has to lose. He presumably also knows -- perhaps even better than the Syrian opposition -- that the Assad regime is on the verge of imploding."
"In the other countries of the 'Arab Spring,' the collapse of ruling structures that had been in place for decades also began on the edges. First it was diplomats to break away from their rules, followed by provincial governors and then, finally, ministers and generals. Husameddine has given off a signal; he is the first and others will follow accordingly as pressure on the regime and the hopelessness of the situation grows. The more who follow his example, the sooner the suffering of thousands in Syria can come to an end."
-- Josh Ward, with wires
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